Farm Catch Up: What’s going on in Agriculture.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 6.48.45 AMLet’s catch up with what’s been going on in agriculture.

Let’s lead off with this odd little item. So, here’s the scenario: You’ve just survived a hurricane. Your house has been flooded, your whole neighborhood has been destroyed, you’ve lost everything you own, you’re trying to cleanup and rebuild. You desperately need money, building supplies, cleaning supplies, drywall, lumber, shingles, plywood… So you’re sitting there staring at the ruins of your neighborhood and you think, “Wow, what I really need is a big hunk of cheese…”

That is apparently what some people in Wisconsin thought when they shipped 45,000 pounds of cheese to the hurricane ravaged areas of the country. Yep, they thought, what they need isn’t money or building supplies or cleaning supplies or anything else that might actually be, well, useful. What they need is forty five thousand pounds of cheese

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 6.25.07 AM
Little known fact: Cows are one of the few animals that can pick their noses with their tongues.

Dairy/Milk: All things considered, the dairy business wasn’t totally horrible this year. Not great, but not terrible. The average price for Class III milk (the kind that’s used for cheese and butter) for the year was in the $16.10 to $16.20 range for 2017. That’s considerably better than 2016 when the average price was about $1.60 lower. The price seems to have been propped up largely by demand for butter and cheese, which has remained fairly strong through a large part of the year.

But the ever present specter of over production is once more haunting the dairy business. Production in the US was up around 2.5% over the year, and production has been going up in other dairy producing areas of the world as well, and the market is showing signs of strain. Butter prices on the Chicago Mercantile have dropped from 2.65 to around 2.21, butterfat exports have fallen, cheese prices have dropped about 10 cents and cheese in storage has increased almost 6% over last year.

Mexico is one of the biggest purchasers of dairy products from the US, but it is actively seeking other sources of supply because, well, would you be comfortable dealing with a merchant who called you a drug-running murdering rapist? It has cut it’s purchases of nonfat dry milk from the US by around 20%, and is getting it from Canada and the EU.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the works is NAFTA, which the administration is supposedly renegotiating. Does anyone except me remember that the Ag Secretary, Perdue, was proudly claiming that the administration was going to renegotiate NAFTA in just three weeks back in early May? Sigh… I try to keep politics out of this, but it’s hard sometimes.

The end result of all of this is that the future for the dairy industry doesn’t look very good. Between over production, declining demand, declining exports, well, right now it looks like 2018 is going to see milk prices dropping by at least $1/cwt, down to the $15.50 range, and they could even get lower than that.

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This was a pasture before the pigs got into it

Wild Pig Population On The Rise: Wild pigs are a huge problem. It’s estimated that there are 6 to 11 million wild pigs running around out there, and according to the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program they are responsible for up to $1.5 billion in damage every year.

They’re trying to get approval for a poison based on sodium nitrate called “Hoggone” which would apparently be placed out in the field in “a species-specific feeder”.

The problem with that kind of thing is, of course, that other animals other than that target species often consume the poison because these “species-specific feeders” often aren’t all that specific. Then there are problems with poison residue left in the carcass being consumed by predators and scavengers. And if you read the article tagged up there you’ll see that some of the experts don’t think poisoning is going to do all that much to cut down the size of the population.

Can you hunt them? Hell yes. You need to check the regulations in your own area for specifics, but most states strongly encourage hunters to take wild pigs, and have few restrictions and no bag limits, and no restrictions on size, gender, no specific season.

Can you eat ’em? Ah, well… Here’s where I get a bit nervous. A lot of DNRs encourage people to eat them. But that’s because they hope you’ll go out and shoot a lot of the buggers. I know people who wax poetic about the joys of eating wild pig. Me? I wouldn’t touch one. They carry a lot of diseases, many of which are infectious to humans and pretty nasty. A lot of them are infested with parasites… No, I wouldn’t eat one.

Cranberry Glut: We are growing way, way too many cranberries. We have so many cranberries already in storage that even if we’d lost the entire 2017 crop, we still would have had a surplus.

The Cranberry Marketing Committee is trying to get USDA to issue a marketing order that would require cranberry growers to produce 25% less cranberries than market demand.

The problem with cranberries is that except for the holiday season, there is really little demand for them. Despite efforts by marketing companies to boost demand, consumption of cranberries in any form has been shrinking. Cranberries, at least by themselves, just don’t taste very good. They are so sour and so bitter on their own that they are virtually inedible unless you add a huge amount of sugar to them, or use them only in very small quantities as a flavoring agent.

What The Heck Is Actually In That Stuff?  You might like to think that manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in a product on the label, but there are all kinds of loopholes in labeling regulations that let them refuse to tell us what exactly is in the products we use. But California has passed new legislation that will lift the veil from at least one category of products, cleaning chemicals. When you see that term listed, it means that chemicals have been added to make the product smell nice. But what exactly is “fragrance”, or the ever popular “cleaning agents” that are listed on the labels? Turns out “fragrance” can contain one or more of thousands of different chemicals, some of which, it seems, are highly toxic, and even are known to be carcinogens. Some labels don’t tell you anything at all. This will will help a bit, but the law doesn’t really go far enough. It only covers cleaning products, for one thing.

Note: The article at Mother Jones that I’ve linked to here seems to be focused on fragrance for some reason, while the bill itself (yes, I’ve read the thing) does not seem to be restricted to chemicals added for fragrance alone. Fragrance is specifically mentioned in the bill, yes, but the bill seems to cover all chemicals in a product not just those used as fragrances.

 

Farm News: Who Can You Trust?

 

A reader was going through some of my old posts and ran across something I’d written back in May when I’d run into an article over on AgWeb that claimed that there was a 70% chance that corn prices would be up in the $4.40 – $4.50 range by December. To be honest I’d completely forgotten about that item until Dustin reminded me when he left a comment reminding me of my skepticism about the claims back then. (See? I do read the comments!)

I was more than a bit irritated by the item at AgWeb at the time. The article presented absolutely no data to back this claim up. Just this “expert” from a brokerage firm trying to tell farmers corn was going to hit 4.40 – 4.50. And at the time that claim made no sense to me at all because I was seeing nothing in the markets or crop reports that indicated any kind of significant price increase. There was no decrease in the number of acres planted, there were no significant weather events going on, there was no increase in demand for product, and there was a huge amount of corn still in storage. What I was seeing was that corn prices were going to remain fairly flat, and quite possibly go through a serious drop as the 2017 harvest was completed

So, here it is, mid-November. What happened to corn prices? Well, corn, of course, never got above $4 of course. It briefly flirted with 3.80 – 3.90, but it didn’t stay there for long and quickly fell back to the 3.50 range, and as of this morning, it’s down to 3.43 after it hit a low of 3.40 when the WASDE report came out telling us that US corn stock was at it’s highest level since 1987. And heaven help any farmer who made any kind of financial plan based on the advice from that so-called expert.

Now if seeing advice this wildly wrong was a one time thing, it wouldn’t be so bad. Everyone makes mistakes. But I see this kind of thing over and over again in the ag press. Some “expert”, some pundit, some talking head, crawls out of the woodwork to make some wild and completely unsupported claim, and then disappears back into anonymity to never be heard from again. And the publication goes ahead and prints the item despite the fact there is no rational reason to believe anything the person says.

Over the last year or so I’ve seen articles in which “experts” made unsupported claims that milk would hit $19 (it’s around $16) by this time of the year, soybeans would hit $11 (about 9.80), and wheat would hit 7.50 (sitting at 4.31). And all those claims were presented by the publications without any facts or reasoning to back them up. Often some of these publications are printing material that completely contradicts what articles in the same publication are claiming.

The end result is that in many cases you don’t know who or what you can trust any more.  You need to be very, very careful these days. Here’s a bit of advice.

First: Remember that these media companies are in business for one reason, and one reason only, to make money. Oh, they might have noble sounding statements appearing that claim they are out there to help you, etc., but, well, no. I’m sorry, but no, they aren’t there to help. The individual reporters, bloggers, etc. might feel that, but when it comes right down to it they are there to make a buck. Period. And that means they have to generate page hits to drive up advertising revenue. So almost all of these publications tend to lean towards click-bait headlines and stories to drive up page views as high as they can. Oh, they’ll deny that, but it’s true. A headline like “Corn Going Up 70%” is going to generate more hits than a headline that expresses what is actually in that story, like “Someone You Never Heard Of Makes Unsubstantiated Claims”, now doesn’t it?

Second: Remember that a lot of the “reporters” in these publication aren’t actually reporters. They are independent bloggers/writers who have no relationship to the publication itself except that they get paid some money if a piece of theirs is published. They aren’t employees of the publication. They’re freelancers who get paid by the piece. Even worse, often what they’re writing about is not something they’ve come up with on their own through their own work, it’s material they found somewhere else and re-wrote to avoid being charged with plagiarism. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s also true.

The advent of the internet has resulted in a phenomena that a friend of mine rather crudely refers to as “circle-jerking”. Let me explain. One of these so-called reporters runs across an item that might make good clickbait. He does a quick and dirty rewrite to avoid plagiarism charges, and as his source, refers to the the original item he found. But if you go to that piece you find that it wasn’t the original. That writer too was a “circle jerker”, referring to yet another piece which, in turn, also wasn’t the original but another “jerker”. That site cites as it’s source yet another website which turns out to be another jerker, and…

Well, you get the idea.

Third: Once upon a time most magazines and newspapers had fact checkers. Almost every story, editorial, etc. was run through the fact checking department to make sure that what was in the item was actually true. Those days are long, long gone in most media companies. Some of the more reputable organizations still do it. Sort of. But the majority of them seem to have discarded fact checking as an unnecessary expense, it seems.

Fourth: Editors don’t actually edit anything any more. The job of an editor used to be making sure that the material that appeared in the publication adhered to basic standards of accuracy, that it was suitable for the intended audience, that it was not misleading, etc. And, alas, those days are long gone as well.

This kind of thing isn’t new, of course. It’s been going on for as long as we’ve had the printing press. It wasn’t invented by the internet. The term “yellow journalism”, which was coined to describe the kind of behavior I talk about here, goes back to the 1890s. Newspapers, especially those owned by Hearst and Pulitzer, are considered to have played a significant role in starting the Spanish-American war due to their irresponsible reporting. While their role in starting the war is exaggerated, there is no doubt that they helped to push public sentiment towards war.

 

More Farm Stuff

There’s been a lot going on in the agriculture world so let’s take a look.

FDA May Remove Heart Healthy Labels on Soy Products: For years now some soy based products have been claiming that they are “heart healthy” based on a claim that using soy caused a reduction in cholesterol. But we’ve known since at least 2005 that consuming soy has little or no effect on reducing cholesterol. It looks like it only took FDA twelve years to figure that out and announce that it was going to make the 300 or so soy products that make that claim to stop using it.

Why the confusion over the issue? It’s suspected that the initial reduction in bad cholesterol that was shown wasn’t caused by soy, but by the participants in the study replacing red meat with soy products. It was the reduction in meat consumption that reduced the cholesterol, not the soy.

Food Waste and Bogus Statistics: Then I ran across this item over at AgWeb which tries to claim that there is virtually no food waste when it comes to eating meat. They claim that about 20% of fruit and vegetables get thrown away rather than eaten, but that only 3% of meat gets thrown out. Therefore, they claim, buying fruit and vegetables is far more harmful to the environment than meat production The article goes on to say that eating meat is “more satisfying” than the equivalent amount of vegetables or fruit, and that meat tastes better than plants and loading meat animals up with antibiotics is just fine and dandy because …

Oh, brother, I just can’t go on any more…  She is basically claiming that because consumers throw out only about 3% of the meat they buy, meat is somehow enormously better for the environment than fruit and vegetable production, and that producing fruit and veg is actually harmful to the environment because people throw away some of it..

I’m not even going to try to follow the mental gymnastics that she goes through to try to come to that conclusion.

But I do notice one thing, that the article completely ignores the fact that almost half of a steer is inedible. Assuming you have a 1,000 lb. steer, only about 600 pounds or less is going to be useable meat. The rest; the head, innards, bones, skin, fat, etc. is inedible. Once you add in things that are trimmed off by the consumer after purchase like fat and small bones that are discarded, etc., you quickly discover that almost half of that steer can’t be used as food.

So in one way, yes, when you get that steak home you’re going to eat almost all of it. But that’s because all of the waste has been trimmed off long before you even see it in the grocery store.

Clovis Withdraws Nomination: Sam Clovis withdrew his name from consideration for a post at USDA as undersecretary for research. The job requires a thorough understanding of agriculture, scientific research methods, and basically was intended for someone who is, if not a scientist, at least someone with a thorough understanding of farming, agriculture, and science. So what were Clovis’ qualifications? Is he a scientist? No. Is he a farmer? No. Has he ever worked in any kind of business related to agriculture?  No. He is a former talk radio host and a political science professor. Well, here is the man’s own words in response to questions from the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow:

“Please list all graduate-level courses you have taken in natural science,” the second of 10 questions requested.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please list all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations,” the third question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

“Please describe any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science,” the fourth question read.

“None,” Clovis replied.

Sigh…

Dicamba. Yes, Again: The apparently never ending saga about the herbicide dicamba continues. According to a report by the University of Missouri dicamba damaged 3.6 million acres of soybeans this past year. That’s a hell of a lot of beans.

The EPA has issued new labeling requirements that more strictly control how the dicamba herbicide blends from Monsanto, BASF and DuPont are used in an attempt to eliminate the problems, but the problem has been so wide spread that some states are considering issuing outright bans on the product. And a lot of people doubt that the new application restrictions and guidelines are going to do much to get a handle on the problem.

I think they’re playing with fire here. So far everyone has been focusing on the damage done to soybeans. Considering how easily this stuff seems to vaporize and drift long distances, it could very easily begin damaging large areas of ornamental plants, food crops, etc.

I’ve even been hearing conspiracy theories from some people. They’re claiming that the herbicide blends were deliberately made to drift like this to force farmers to plant Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans whether they want to or not.

USDA Kills “Farmer Fair Practices Rules” (GIPSA): On Oct. 18 USDA announced it is totally dumping the FFPR, a set of rules that attempted to correct many of the abuses endured by “contract” farmers, farmers who don’t actually own the crop or animals they are growing. The famers own the land, the equipment, buildings, provide the labor, etc. but the product they are growing actually belongs to the company and is grown under a contract for a fixed price. Almost all of the chickens raised in the US are produced this way.

They may be “independent farmers”, because the big companies don’t own them, but they have only one client, and that client controls everything. They are essentially indentured servants with few if any rights. These companies are accused of price fixing, blacklisting farmers, canceling contracts on a whim, and engaging in retaliation against farmers who make waves.

The FFPR was intended to help give the famers a bit more control and flexibility to sue in cases of blatantly unfair practices.

I’m not going to get into this any deeper because it would take many, many pages to describe the whole situation. You can go do the research yourself if you’re interested. But as Chuck Grassley, a senator from Iowa said about killing the FFPR: “They’re just pandering to big corporations. They aren’t interested in the family farmer.”

Just What Is Organic Anyway?  I don’t know about you, but when I think of the term “organic” the definition definitely does not include acres of green houses containing thousands of trays of robotically tended plants under grow lights being grown by soaking the roots in a chemical nutrient solution. In other words, hydroponics.

But according to the National Organic Standards Board, it is. The NOSB has ruled that hydroponics is organic.

Look, I have nothing against hydroponics. It’s an extremely useful technology. But isn’t “organic” a lot more than just producing herbicide free food?

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done this in a while, so let’s see what’s going on out in the farming world.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMButter Tumbles In Europe:  Wholesale butter prices have plummeted by almost 10% from September in the EU, and have dropped by 20% overall from the high point. The market for butter and butterfat was the only thing that was driving improved farmgate milk prices in the EU. There was a very modest reduction in milk production, but that quickly reversed as milk prices began to improve, and from what I’ve been seeing milk production is on the rise once again.

Butter prices in the US dropped a bit, but are still pretty strong, about 20% or so higher than they were a year ago.

I’ve been hearing the price on powdered skim milk in the EU has dropped precipitously because they can’t get rid of the stuff.

Basically it looks like a return to the old boom/bust cycle. As soon as prices start to get even a tiny bit better, dairy farms begin to ramp up production, glutting the market with product, and pushing the prices back down again.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 8.58.56 AMSargento Expansion: The company is expanding again locally. It’s adding another 40,000 sq. feet to it’s facility here in Hilbert after a major 70,000 sq. foot expansion just a year ago, and will be adding another 150 jobs here. Sargento is privately owned, employs about 2,000 people, and produces cheese, snacks, sauces and ingredients for the food industry. It had net sales of well over $1 billion last year. Starting wages for most jobs are going to be in the $18/hr range I’ve been told.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 7.58.59 AMDicamba Battle Continues: Monsanto and it’s partner in the dicamba herbicide controversy, BASF, continue to claim that thousands of acres of crops that were damaged by dicamba drift wasn’t their fault. Arkansas alone had more than a thousand complaints of crops damaged or killed by dicamba drifting away fro the sprayed areas into fields that were often hundreds, even thousands of feet away.

This situation has been going on ever since Monsanto and it’s partner in this, BASF, brought their dicamba blend herbicides to market to use with Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans. Dicamba has always had a problem with volatility and drifting, meaning the product goes into vapor form very easily and can drift far beyond the point of application. These new formulations were supposed to cure that problem, but the problem with drift seems to still be a serious issue. Ever since these products came to market there have been reports of tens of thousands of acres of crops and ornamental plantings being killed or damaged by the herbicide.

Both companies have been blaming everything but their products for the problems. Arkansas banned Monsanto’s version of the herbicide and only BASF’s was permitted for use in the state, and the reported damage is so bad some states are thinking of banning the product completely. Monsanto is currently suing Arkansas over the ban. Monsanto is also criticizing scientists who are coming forward to point out problems with the product that date back to the first tests of the dicamba blends, and claim that the company’s testing of the product was seriously flawed and failed to point out the dangers of the herbicide.

Now BASF is claiming that the damage is because farmers have been using illegal forms of dicamba, and not it’s product at all. The company claims that it only sold about half the amount herbicide that would be needed to cover the acreage that was actually sprayed.

The whole thing is a complete mess, with lawsuits either in the works or already heading for the courts, lots of finger pointing, bizarre conspiracy theories, and even one murder attributed to the issue.

Not So Great Pumpkin Controversy: If you’re the FDA, a squash is a squash is a pumpkin. Its all pretty much the same. So that orangey brown gunk you dump out of that can to make your pumpkin pie isn’t really, well, pumpkin. Pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo while what you’re mostly getting in that can is Cucurbita maxima, a different variety of squash. The problem is that real pumpkin doesn’t really work very well for a lot of the things we eat, like pie.

Personally I can’t stand the stuff, the pumpkin pie fillings and all that. I love squash. There’s nothing better than a slow roasted butternut or acorn squash with a bit of, oh, apple baked with it, a little brown sugar, some butter, a touch of salt. It is amazingly good. But pumpkin? No thanks. I’ll pass on that pumpkin pie and head straight for the mincemeat. Although come to think of it mincemeat doesn’t really have meat in it either any more, does it?

And don’t get me started on the abomination that is “pumpkin spice”.

That’s it for now. Well, actually there’s probably more but I’m getting bored and MrsGF is making deep dish apple pie and I need to go peel apples.

As always, comments are welcome or you can email me at old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

If I got the email address right this time.

 

Wait, what??? Strawberries? Really?

Okay, so we had a pretty poor year here in my home county for some crops this year because of the weather. So it wasn’t a surprise when I learned USDA had declared Calumet and the surrounding counties a disaster area because of the crop damage we had. But this?

MADISON – United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue designated Calumet County and six surrounding counties as disaster areas due to crop losses from heavy rains in late June and early July. Calumet County lost more than 30 percent of its strawberry crop as a result of excessive rain and flooding that kept fields underwater and soils oversaturated for an extended time.

What the hell is going on here? Strawberries? Strawberries??

Calumet County doesn’t have a strawberry industry. Not really. Oh, there are a few “pick your own” places and home gardens, but other than that there are no large commercial strawberry growing places in Calumet County. I doubt if the entire strawberry crop in the county, including the pick your own, home gardens, etc., amounts to more than a few dozen acres total.

On the other hand, we lost our entire hay crop this year. The figures I’ve seen indicate the hay crop was a 90+% loss here and in neighboring Manitowoc County.  Thousands of acres of hay were a total loss. Anyone who raises cattle is scrambling to find fodder for their animals. Corn that was supposed to go for grain is being chopped for fodder to feed cattle at a massive loss to the dairy farms around here.

But we’re getting the disaster declaration because of strawberries according to the governor’s office…

 

 

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the farming world.

Dicamba Herbicide Fight Continues: The fighting over the new Dicamba blends of herbicides continues. BASF and Monsanto continue to argue that their newly approved blends of herbicides containing dicamba are completely safe and aren’t a problem at all, while the farmers who have had thousands of acres of soybeans ruined by the herbicide after it drifted long distances, argue that it isn’t safe for use.

Arkansas is pushing for a ban on all dicamba use except for those uses that were permitted before the new blends came on the market. The ban would last until October, 2018, and would halt the sale and use of both Monsanto and BASF’s new dicamba based products, and probably halt the sale of Monsanto’s dicamba resistant soybeans as well because if the herbicide can’t be used, there’s no point in paying a premium for Monsanto’s new beans, either.

Monsanto is, of course, not happy about any of this since they stand to lose millions of dollars in sales of both their herbicide and seed. The company is blaming anyone and anything for the problems that have been going on, claiming that there is no “scientific” basis for the ban, that “scientists” have discovered that even if their product does drift outside of the application area, it doesn’t really hurt anything anyway, that some of the experts testifying in favor of the ban are prejudiced against the company, blaming the people who apply the herbicide, blaming the equipment used.

It isn’t just Arkansas that’s having problems. In Missouri it’s estimated that up to 22% of the soybeans planted in the Bootheel area were damaged by dicamba drift, along with acres upon acres of tomato, watermelons, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables and even trees, shrubs and people’s home gardens. The product isn’t just moving a few yards, in some cases there are indications the herbicide is drifting for miles according to the Missouri Extension weed specialist Kevin Bradley.

Farmland Partners Makes Major Buy: Farmland Partners is an investment company that buys up farmland for no reason other than to rent it to actual farmers. The company now has about 160,000 acres of farmland. They just bought over 5,000 acres of nut orchards for $110 million from Olam, a Singapore based company that ventured into the nut business.

My feelings about this kind of thing? I find it extremely concerning. Companies like this are, well, to put it bluntly, parasites. They insert themselves into the process, competing against actual farmers for a scarce resource, farmland. They artificially inflate demand for that resource, driving prices up. They rent the land back to the farmers at ever increasing prices because the shareholders demand ever increasing profits, and at the same time the company itself provides absolutely no value at all to the whole process. It exists only to skim off profits from the whole system while contributing nothing itself, while at the same time destabilizing the whole system and actually degrading its health through it’s manipulation of the market.

Seed Terminator: Combines are great at two things; harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 5.53.30 AMetc., and spreading weed seeds all over your fields. The problem is that a lot of weeds are coming ripe at around the same time as your crop. So when you combine your crop, you’re also combining the weeds and blowing the weed seeds out the back of the combine and scattering them all over the field. A lot of people have worked for a very long time on this problem, with various attempts at a solution.

This one which is now going into production it seems, adds a screening system and high speed flails that pulverizes the weed seeds before they get blown back onto the field. If you click the link up there you’ll jump to the article about it. Apparently it works pretty good, and I’m always in favor of anything that helps farmers reduce the need for herbicides.

The problem is that this puppy costs about $70,000. Even when we’re talking about combines that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more, that is a pretty significant amount of money. Is it worth it? No idea.

Pork Cheap, Beef getting more Expensive: Beef prices at the consumer level haven’t been all that good for some time now. Pork is almost ridiculously cheap right now. Pork futures have fallen like a stone since July, dropping some 30%. Pork bellies, where we get bacon from, dove straight into the dumper, falling 60%. Although I note that hasn’t helped the price of bacon in the store. That keeps going up and up, it seems.

Beef on the other hand… Sheesh. Prices on some cuts have moderated a bit, but not by much, and they’re claiming prices are going to go up significantly over the upcoming months. We generally buy a lot of beef from MrsGF’s brother and sister, but because of logistics issues they aren’t going to have any ready to go for probably a year now. So MrsGF and I are looking into seeing if we have enough freezer space to get a quarter or half of beef from the local butcher because we can get that dressed, cut, wrapped and frozen, for $3.90 a pound which is less than what hamburger is going for in the grocery stores around here.

Syngenta Lawsuit Settled: Syngenta, a seed company, was sued a while back over one variety of it’s corn. The corn, a GM variety, was heavily marketed by the company and a  lot of farmers planted it. Only to find that when it came time to actually sell their corn to China, the country rejected it because Syngenta allegedly hadn’t told told the farmers that China had not approved that type of corn for import. In addition, it was alleged that the company deliberately misled farmers by claiming the corn variety had been approved by China when it had not.

Farmers, grain shipping companies, etc. lost millions of dollars on the deal and sued. Syngenta claimed they had told them that China hadn’t approved it. Lots of lawyers paid for their kids’ college education out of this one, raking in millions in legal fees, and the final result is Syngenta and the plaintiffs are apparently now going to settle out of court. I haven’t heard yet what the settlement will be, but you can expect that the company is going to have to pay a huge amount of money to make this one go away.

Addendum: Just ran cross another story that had more details. Syngenta is apparently going to cough up $1.4 billion to make this lawsuit go away. The company already lost a $218 million jury trial to a group of Kansas farmers about three months ago. There are still lawsuits pending in Canada against the company that will not fall under this agreement and will be thrashed out in the Canadian courts.

Catching Up

IMG_0702The pears have just started to ripen, something we always look forward to. Alas, it hasn’t been a good year for pears. Normally we end up filling five gallon buckets with the things and giving them away to anyone we can talk into taking them, but this year we’re going to be lucky if we get more than a few dozen. The weather this spring when it was putting out flowers was not very good. We were getting cold days, lots of rain, and not a single bee in sight. I think it was the lack of pollinators that caused the drastic cutback in production this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. When that tree is in full production we have far, far more pears than we can deal with. We give away all that we can, eat what we can, and, alas, the rest end up as compost.

This particular type of pear doesn’t hold up well for canning or freezing. They are best eaten fresh, just after they turn ripe. And dear lord, they’re good. Sweet as candy, juicy, with a lush, melt in your mouth texture. The ones in the basket are still too green to eat but they’ll start to turn yellow in a few days.

One problem we have is trying to pick them before they fall. Wait a just a bit too long, and they’ll hit the ground and because of the soft texture they turn to mush from the fall. So you have to try to pick them just before they turn.

Now I love peppers, but I prefer the milder ones. Poblano peppers are probably my favorite. Just a touch of warmth to them, with a rich, slightly smokey flavor. I’m fond of jalapeno  peppers as well, but that’s about the upper limit of my tolerance for heat.

IMG_0703So how we ended up with these guys, I have no idea. The little red ones… Dear lord, they’re hot! When they were green they were tolerable and had a fairly good flavor, but now? Just cutting one in half sends out fumes that make the eyes water, and those little yellow ones are almost as bad. MrsGF, it seems, didn’t label the seedlings with great accuracy last spring, if at all, so we had no idea what we were going to get until they started to produce fruit.

The yellow ones are even worse. Just cutting one up makes my eyes start to water and my nose burn. I cut one of the yellows up last night and talked EldestSon and YoungestSon into trying them, after I took a bite myself to prove they weren’t all that bad. Apparently my tolerance for hot peppers has increased over the years because they both thought they were pretty bad. Not to the point where you’d run to the fridge for the milk, but darn close.

Addendum: I just found out that the yellow one is apparently a golden habanero pepper with a heat rating of up to 350,000 scovilles. Wow… Jalapeno is only about 5,000 scovilles. Yeah, that’s a bit hot.

I need to make sure we only put in poblano and sweet bell next year, and maybe one or two jalapeno.

MrsGF pointed out that it seems that the only veggies that grow really, really well here is the stuff we don’t really like, like the super hot peppers, eggplant and the like, while the stuff we do like a lot, gets eaten by bugs or doesn’t grow well. That’s an exaggeration of course, but some years it does seem that way.

IMG_0689We’re very fortunate in that the town has an outstanding composting program that it’s been running for years now. We’re even more luck in that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the compost site. The guys have been busy sifting the newest batch of compost and it’s ready to go. After cleaning out the garden spaces I’ll be making regular runs down here with my little trailer to take advantage of it.

IMG_0686Last weekend I proved to myself that I’m still a 6 year old at heart because seeing this thing in the parking lot at the grocery store made me grin like an idiot. Yes, the Weinermobile. Oscar Meyer has been running these for a lot of years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of them close up.

I should point out I’m not a big fan of Oscar Meyer products. And the free hotdog I snagged reminded me why. A pale pink tube that tasted mainly of salt and artificial smoke flavorings and one of the most unappetizing colors I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.

IMG_0697Then we woke up to the sound of our street being reduced to gravel. Literally. Big road grinder moving slowly back and forth in front of the house grinding the pavement and everything else in it’s path into dust as they prep for repaving a section of the street. Loud? Oh dear… Sounded and felt like a 747 was landing in the backyard. They’ve been prepping for this for weeks now, replacing sections of curb and gutter and driveway aprons.

IMG_0699We’re hoping they get this done soon. Right now the road in front of the house is pretty much nothing but dust. We get a lot of big trucks through here and there is a patina of dust over everything. It’s getting more than a little annoying.

Let’s end this with some roadside flowers. Clumps of these have popped up along the backroads around here all over now and they make a brilliant display when you stumble over them.

IMG_0692

Let’s Talk About Cow Sh#t!

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Manure spreaders only looked this good for about 30 seconds after they were delivered to the farm.

What sparked this piece is that the DNR here in the state is being sued by a couple of different dairy organizations over the new rules it and the state legislature instituted to try to deal with the massive problem of pollution caused by runoff from the manure generated by the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, or mega-farms as they’re generically called).

Manure disposal is a huge problem here in Wisconsin and in other states where there are any kind of large scale cattle operations. Forty or fifty years ago when farms here in the state were still relatively small, it wasn’t a big deal. But now, when we have farms with 3,000, 5,000 or even more cattle concentrated on a single farm, confined to a small area, it has become problem which is literally toxic. Just one of these farms generates as much sewage as a small city. And dealing with that much manure safely is not easy.

And we’ve learned that the hard way. Private wells all over the state are contaminated by the runoff. Some have been hit hard. Kewaunee County has at least 30% of it’s private wells contaminated. Some estimates I’ve read put that number as high as 45%. Some organizations and schools have been giving out bottled water to local families with contaminated wells. We have massive “dead zones” in the Bay of Green Bay where fish can’t live any more because of problems associated with runoff from farm fields. We have toxic algae blooms in lakes. We have… Well, you get the idea.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.43.38 AMOnce upon a time we dealt with cow manure like this. The cows grazed out in the field, they’d drop a pile here and there, and move on and nature dealt with it. Insects laid eggs in it, animals foraging for food scattered it about looking for the insects, rain would gradually wash it away, and over the course of many days the pile would gradually erode away, absorbed into the soil where the nutrients would be taken up by the surrounding plants.

But you can’t graze 5,000 cows. And since a single mega-farm can produce as much Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.49.37 AMsewage as a city, disposing of manure becomes a serious problem and you end up with this kind of thing over there on the right; massive manure pumping operations dumping tens of thousands of gallons of liquified manure across fields all over the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.45.24 AMOr imagine you live in the country and you wake up one morning and find huge tanker trucks full to the brim with reeking sludge, leaking all over the road, parked right across from your house like my friend did a couple of years ago. They woke up that morning to the sound of heavy trucks, went outside, and found this going on right in front of their house.

Each one of those trucks has about 8,000 gallons of manure in them. And they were rolling in like that all day long, dumping the stuff into a portable holding tank set up in the field while massive pumps pushed it down hoses to the tractors in the field that were spraying it. The stink was so bad they and everyone else within a quarter mile had to evacuate their homes.

There are existing rules and laws controlling the disposal of manure, but by and large those are pushed to the limits, exceeded, even blatantly ignored.

I have to admit that the situation has gotten better, at least around here. But that’s because I wasn’t kidding about people having to evacuate their homes during one of these big pumping operations. Threats of lawsuits and warnings from local governments to take action forced the worst of this nonsense to be curtailed, but it still gets pretty bad around here sometimes.

It wasn’t until about 40% of the drinking water wells were contaminated in some parts of the state like Kewaunee County that the DNR was forced to act, and then only after the situation had gotten so bad that communities were starting to give out bottled water. The DNR announced stricter regulations and enforcement, with backing from the state legislature, and it looked like they might be finally getting a handle on this.

But no. Now the lawsuits have started. At least two ag business associations have filed suit against the state claiming the DNR doesn’t have the legal authority authority to make the new rules. And because the state legislature severely curtailed the authority of the agency over the past few years, they are quite possibly right. Without intervention by the state legislature, the DNR probably doesn’t really have the legal authority to put the new regulations in place.

 

Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMArla boss Peder Tuborgh sees a shake-up, if the rally continues which has, for the first time, made dairy fats more expensive than protein Source: Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

I haven’t been talking much about farming lately because not much has really been going on over the last month or so. But butter — good grief. The butter market has gone goofy.

Wholesale butter prices are flirting with record prices in some markets, even surpassing record levels in some areas. Retail prices have been creeping up. Demand for butter has been just about the only thing that’s been keeping farmgate fluid milk prices at a reasonably decent level over the last few months. Around here prices for generic butter is pushing close to $4/lb. while prices for the “premium” brands is in the $4.50 range, with some of the premium brands pushing $5/lb. retail prices. The exception is KwikTrip, which is selling their house brand for $2.99 in their convenience stores around here.

I’m always fascinated by how the public’s attitude towards butter and dairy fat in general has changed over the last few years. Thanks mostly to the marketing claims made by margarine manufacturers, and with little or no actual scientific studies backing those claims, butter and dairy fat was being blamed for everything from obesity, to heart disease, to stroke, to I don’t know what all else, while margarine was being pushed as a “healthy” alternative, when the opposite was true.

I always hated margarine. I hated it’s texture and flavor, I hated how it melted or didn’t melt, hated how it worked when used in cooking. But then I’m weird that way. I have one of those hypersensitive senses of smell and taste, especially smell. I’ve a bit of a reputation as being a picky eater, but I’m really not. The problem is that I smell and taste things most people seem to be unaware of.

But let’s get back to butter…

The item up there from AgriMoney reminded me of the Great Butter War going on here in Wisconsin right now. The picture of Kerry Gold butter up there isn’t just some random butter image, it’s appropriate because at the moment Kerry Gold is banned from sale in Wisconsin along with a lot of other brands of butter.

Before butter can be sold in the state, it has to be graded on taste, texture and color through some state accepted system, by state accepted inspectors. This means that if a butter maker can’t or won’t spend the time and money to put their product through the state’s inspection system because of cost or whatever reason, it can’t be sold in the state, even though it meets all other accepted federal standards.

Consumers didn’t know about this until one day Kerry Gold butter abruptly vanished from the shelves of the grocery stores here in the state not too long ago. It isn’t that the law was just passed, it’s been on the books since the 1950s. It seems that a lot of grocers just didn’t know about the law until fairly recently.

Wisconsin has a long history of laws about butter. It is still illegal for restaurants to substitute margarine for butter without the customer specifically requesting it. It is illegal to serve margarine in state prisons, schools and hospitals except for health reasons. And until the late 1950s it was illegal to sell margarine in the state that had been dyed yellow. Margarine is actually a rather sickly looking whitish color and is dyed yellow to make it look appealing. Margarine makers used to include a yellow dye packet with the margarine sold in Wisconsin so the consumer could dye it themselves.

I should point out that Wisconsin’s butter grading law has nothing to do with food safety. The grading system the state insists on is made up of largely arbitrary standards for taste, texture, smell and appearance. Kerry Gold and the other butters banned from sale in the state meet all USDA and other federal standards for quality. They just haven’t been subjected to these arbitrary tests.

Well, the whole thing is going through the legal system now, and I suspect that sooner or later the Wisconsin requirements will be overturned. But until then you’ll have to order your Kerry Gold online or hop across the border to Illinois or Minnesota to get your fix.

Farm Catch Up

Stories you might have missed about food, agriculture, and the ever popular ‘stuff’, along with occasionally snarky commentary.

Coffee Linked To Not Dying!

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.14.11 PMOoo, coffee — that delightful, delicious beverage that both pleasures the taste buds and enlivens the brain, oh I feel so sorry for those of you who drink tea. (Come on, you tea drinkers know what you’re drinking is lawn sweepings soaked in tepid water, right?)

Anyway, now that I’m done annoying the tea drinkers out there (you know who you are), let’s get on with this.

That headline up there is not clickbait. It’s true. According to a study published actual real live doctors from an actual research facility and published in an actual science journal (not the Flintstone’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Sciency Stuff and Flat Earth Society where most of the congress apparently gets its science information) you have almost a 20% less chance from dying from just about anything if you drink coffee. Well, probably not getting hit by an asteroid or something like that. They mean heart disease, stroke, cancer, that kind of thing. If you click the link it will take you to an article over on The Guardian and you can get the links to the actual study from there.

Missouri Bans Dicamba

Missouri joined Arkansas in issuing an emergency ban on the sale and use of herbicides

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 6.29.22 AM
soybeans damaged by dicamba

containing dicamba after it was learned that more than 200,000 acres of non-GM soybeans were allegedly damaged by the product. The Arkansas ban was approved by the Governor’s office and will go into effect on July 11, and is in effect for 120 days. The Missouri one doesn’t seem to have a specific time limit, but the agency involved in Missouri said it hoped the problems could be resolved and the ban lifted yet this growing season.

Dicamba has always been difficult to work with. It turns to vapor and can drift for extremely long distances. Non-GM soybeans are extremely sensitive to the product, and even a tiny amount can damage the crop, so any kind of drifting is a serious problem. Monsanto has claimed that it’s “VaporGrip” version of the product cured the problems when used properly. But it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

So, you ask, what dos Monsanto say about all of this? Glad you asked.

They’re blaming everyone else, of course. In an interview over at CropLife, a Monsanto spokesperson blamed everyone and everything except, of course, it’s product. Farmers spraying at the wrong time of day, having residue from other products in the sprayer’s tanks, not following proper procedures, using the wrong spray nozzles, spraying in windy conditions. And all, of course, without offering any proof that any of this actually happened.

More Chlorpyrifos Controversy

Five states (and I’ve heard several more are in line to do it too) are suing the EPA over it’s decision to permit the continued use of Chlorpyrifos, a very nasty pesticide that is known to cause serious health problems, especially in children.

I mentioned this before. Last year the EPA determined that chlorpyrifos was dangerous, and public health organizations, doctors and other health care professionals have been pushing for it to be banned for years. The EPA was going to ban the stuff at last.

But then along came Pruitt and he claimed the stuff is just fine and dandy and that they had real actual “meaningful data and meaningful science” to prove it. Associated Press, other media, and health officials have repeatedly requested the EPA provide them with the data, but the EPA has refused to respond to any of the requests.

I don’t like being a cynical old bastard, but I get the feeling the EPA hasn’t provided it yet because they have interns locked in a back room somewhere desperately trying to write something sciency enough to fool the average reader into believing this stuff is “safe”.

Oh, I should point out that DOW, which makes chlorpyrifos, contributed $1 million to Trump to fund his inauguration, its CEO is supposedly good friends with him, and it has spent over $13 million “lobbying” various politicians in the past year.

Commodities Markets Are Weird

If you followed my old blog on Tumblr you know I’m fascinated with the agricultural commodities market and how it functions. Or, rather, how it doesn’t function, because it’s often so screwed up it’s laughable. Often what’s going on in the futures markets seems to have little to do with reality. Like right now.

USDA came out with it’s crop status report, and it’s the worst that they’ve issued since the 2012 drought, with only 65% of the corn crop rated at “good” or better, and only 62% of the soybean crop rated “good” or better.

Now during the drought, corn and soybean prices skyrocketed, with corn pushing the $8/bushel range for a time. So you would naturally think that a report that bad would push the prices up, right?

Well, no. After the report came out, corn prices fell by about 5 cents a bushel, and soybeans dropped more than 12 cents.

Apparently what drove the morning price down was that the report wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.

Bureaucratic Run Around

More on the dicamba front: BASF, which has partnered with Monsanto to produce the special dicamba blend that was just banned in Arkansas and Missouri after enormous numbers of complaints about crops damaged by the herbicide, is trying to pull a bureaucratic end run around the ban by applying for something known as a “special local need label”.  This is a special permitting system that allows the use of a pesticide that normally cannot be used, because no other pesticide would be effective. Basically it was originally intended to help during emergency situations where there was an infestation of some pest that threatened to wipe out a crop, and only a non-registered pesticide would work. If you want, you can read the information about that whole process here.

Considering dicamba has damaged literally hundreds of thousands of acres of crops as it has drifted across the countryside, it seems that problem here is dicamba, not the weeds it’s supposed to control.

What The Hell Is Milk Anyway?

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 7.42.36 AMThere is a lot of fighting these days over the definition of the term “milk” when it comes to products being sold to consumers, specifically over the use of the term in describing drinks made with various nuts and beans. I.e. “soy milk” and “almond milk” and that kind of thing. Even USDA isn’t sure, and is using the word “milk” in much of it’s literature when referring to these products.

I can certainly understand why the almond industry wants to use the term. It’s because calling “almond milk” what it really is, isn’t exactly appealing. If they labeled it accurately, they’d have to call it “97% water with a few ground up almonds, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, flavoring agents, coloring, added vitamins and minerals and preservatives and you’d get more nutrition from just eating five or six actual almonds than drinking this stuff beverage”.

Try fitting that on the label on the bottle.

Rural Internet Access

For anyone living out in the country internet access is a major problem. There are various schemes and scams floating around that claim they will bring high speed internet to rural residents, but most of them are never going to get anywhere for various reasons.

Why won’t the ISPs connect rural customers? Cost, of course. It would take ages for them to make up the cost of connecting everyone outside of cities and towns. The same thing happened with electricity and telephone back in the day, the providers wouldn’t hook up rural areas until the government pretty much forced them to and paid a lot of the costs associated with it. And in this current political climate, well, a prominent Wisconsin politician (Sensenbrenner) is on record as saying that no one actually needs internet in the first place, thus illustrating that he hasn’t a clue as to what life is like out here in the real world.

The problem with most of these schemes is that they rely on some type of radio communication, either types of cellular networks, microwaves, or some kind of extended wifi system. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t really have the spectrum available to make these schemes work. The radio spectrum is so severely overcrowded now that cellular companies are paying billions of dollars for access to a few frequencies to expand their networks and improve their systems. So exactly where they’re going to squeeze in these new services is problematic.

The other problem is that some of these systems are already being tested or are even already in use in limited areas, and they don’t really work very well and they aren’t really all that fast. We have a kind of microwave system in use around here serving residents that live outside of the wired system, and it has some serious issues. Heavy rain and snow disrupts service, speeds slow to a crawl during ‘prime time’ when many people are trying to use the system, and most of these systems are very expensive, have some very serious data caps, and have lots of other issues associated with them.

Yet another problem is that what the feds are calling “broadband” isn’t really broadband by anyone’s definition. The US has some of the most abysmal internet speeds of any first world country. The ISPs here have been concentrating on throttling back usage, restricting bandwidth, charging utterly ridiculous amounts of money for going over artificially created caps so they can cram ever more paying users into an already overloaded system, and not investing any of that money in improving the infrastructure or in extending their coverage. The result is that US speeds are about half of what they are in the UK, the EU, Japan, Korea, and even the metro areas of China.

The feds definition for “broadband” internet for rural areas is even worse than what it is in urban areas, about 10 meg/second. So you can forget about making that conference call to work if your kid is playing WOW or your dear spouse is down in the basement watching PornHub.

Manure Rules

Wisconsin is finally doing something about the very serious contamination of wells by

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Why is she wearing a mask? If you had to pose in a swimsuit with a bunch of cows, you’d probably wear a mask too.

manure from farming operations. I’ve mentioned before that we have had problems with well contamination from farm runoff, especially in Kewaunee County, were it’s estimated that 30% – 40% of the wells are contaminated. It hasn’t been widely reported, but the problem is so bad that local organizations, schools and others have been giving out drinking water to local families because of the widespread contamination of the wells up there.

The state is going to be issuing new rules that will finally put some restrictions on when, how and where farms can spread manure. Hopefully this will help.

Okay, okay — I know that photo has nothing to do with the story. But if I come across a photo of a person in a swimsuit, wearing a mask, standing with a bunch of cows, I’m going to put it up. I can’t help myself.